NARCO-DRONES: The Cartels’ Newest, Tech Savvy Smuggling SOP Spooks Security Experts

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JP Carroll National Security & Foreign Affairs Reporter
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Mexican cartels are managing border smuggling operations through extensive use of drones, which are replacing traditional human sources and surveillance, according to Small Wars Journal.

Border security expert Nelson Balido, whose work in Fox News Latino is cited in Small Wars Journal, states that, “a fleet of drones that fly along the U.S.-Mexico border, giving comprehensive real-time intelligence to smugglers on the location and movement of border patrol and other law enforcement officers and vulnerabilities in our border security infrastructure.”

Balido elaborates that bureaucratic barriers, such as airspace being the exclusive domain of Border Patrol, but the help of the Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine is needed. At the moment, only machine gun-armed helicopters, “costing more than $1,500 an hour plus crew to try and take down a very nimble and low-flying UAV worth a fraction of that cost, to say nothing of the missed shots that would hail bullets on the ground below. This is the equivalent of bringing a Hellfire missile when all you need is a fly-swatter.”

The problem with drone technology is that it’s increasingly developed in a cost effective manner by the private sector. Cartels are purchasing cheap Chinese models that can carry far more drugs than they are worth and ultimately pay for themselves if drugs are successfully smuggled, either on the drone or thanks to its surveillance.

A Chinese manufactured – Spreading Wings 900 – drone was found in Tijuana near the U.S. border in January 2015 with six pounds of methamphetamine on it. The drone was heading towards the U.S. before crashing.

The Small Wars Journal concludes that, “The use of drones is no longer merely a tactical issue; it has strategic and operational potentials for states and their competitors. This threat will become especially acute when larger packs and swarms of semi-autonomous and autonomous armed drones—eventually custom printed to maximize specific mission requirements—are employed utilizing network C2 architectures that allow for collective decision making protocols and strategies to be implemented. ”

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JP Carroll